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Latest News / February 16, 2022

Managing Uncertain Times

Kiwifruit industry stalwart Marty Robinson says the challenges facing growers this summer require a different mindset to both work and wellbeing. 

Marty’s been involved in the Kiwifruit industry for many years. He currently manages 16 hectares of kiwifruit, is involved in developing the Baygold group and runs his own farm. He’s also involved in the not-for-profit Daily Cafe in Te Puke which acts as an informal gathering place for the industry and operates a substantial food in schools programme (2,000 lunches a day).

“I have a finger in many pies” he laughs. “I suppose 80% of our industry is within 40k of here so I do meet a lot of growers and workers. This cafe is a nice friendly space for them.”

Marty says there’s no doubt Covid-related labour shortages have added to the traditional pressures growers face this time of the year. His own operation is no exception.

“These are extraordinary times. Workers are hard to find, contracts are harder to manage and labour costs have gone up 25 to 40%. Kiwifruit gold growers should be able to absorb those costs, but Kiwifruit green growers could struggle to make money.”

Rather than plough ahead pretending it’s ‘business as usual’, Marty believes growers need to adopt a different mindset.

“Covid has added another layer of stress so it’s not going to be a normal year for anyone. We need to adjust our thinking, look after each other and focus on getting through.”

Marty speaks from experience. Some years back he experienced burnout. “I didn’t realise what was happening til my wife and I were discussing post-natal depression after the birth of our second child. We were going through this list of signs when it suddenly dawned on me, ‘hey, that’s exactly how I feel’. I just thought it was normal!”

Marty sought the help required to get his life back on track, but his recovery took a while and taught him plenty. “I was a capable person who could turn his hand to most things but what started out as an asset eventually became a burden. I was going at things hammer and tongs, doing six or seven things at once. I ended up burnt out in a major way.”

“It was a hard lesson. I had to learn to say ‘no’, step back and pass things over to others. I was lucky I had great support from my wife, family and team.”

Not surprisingly, Marty’s a good source of advice for growers feeling stressed by the current situation. “Even when things happen that are outside your control, like Covid, there are still things you can control to ease pressure. For instance, get away from your phone, just use it for a set period every day. Turn off your notifications and get off social media.”

“Prioritise your workload too, especially if you’re short of help. There’s no point stressing about orchard work you can’t realistically get to. Write a list of what you can do and reschedule other things until after harvest. You’ll feel more in control.”

“The other thing is to stick to your strengths. I was a great one for taking on other people’s jobs as well as my own. The reality is your business only needs you to do the things you excel at.”

“Very few people have the time, skill or knowledge to make every business decision themselves. It’s much easier in a team environment, so surround yourself with helpful, positive people.”

Marty says regular time off orchard is essential. “You need strategies in place to unwind. I like mountain biking and getting out in nature. We’ve got a property, Redwood Valley Farm, with a stream and native bush that allows us to go for walks and get away from it all. Something as simple as that is a circuit breaker if you’re feeling stressed.”

Staying connected with friends is another good stress buster. “Te Puke is a great place to live and work. We’re only 20 minutes from the beach and an hour to a lake. There are also things like Tuesday night social cricket that you can get involved in over summer, so you get a break, catch up with mates, have a laugh. Getting involved in community activities like that is good for your health.”

Marty’s seen the industry navigate hard times before and is optimistic it will do so again. “I know there will be growers out there who are quite stressed, but the industry has been through tough times like the PSA lockdown in 2010 and survived. These stresses will pass too.”

“We’ve still got a great product, orchard prices are high and the industry has really worked hard to meet the needs of growers and work cohesively. But there’s no doubt this is going to be a huge year, so we all need to adjust.”

His advice? “Start each day afresh, without regrets, and go easy on yourself. There’s no point beating yourself up about KPIs and outputs. You’ve got to be realistic about what’s possible during extraordinary times.”

Marty says it also helps to recognise the signs of burnout, whether it is mood swings, trouble sleeping, becoming withdrawn or having a shorter fuse with workmates. “Part of staying well is self-management. My wife and I can now spot when I’m feeling stretched and schedule the breathing space I need.”

NZKGI has teamed up with Farmstrong to produce a resource for growers identifying the common signs of stress and directing them to available help.

“To a certain extent, we all have to grin and bear things, but if you’re really feeling under the pump, don’t be afraid to step out, leave the phone at home and do something different for a day.”

“I love the industry, but I was the classic example of someone overdoing it. I learnt a hard lesson. Once you let yourself get too far down that hole, it’s a long way back. I had to prioritise what really mattered in life – my health, my family and then my income. Once you’ve got things in balance, you’ll be all right no matter what’s happening in the industry.”

Farmstrong is a nationwide wellbeing programme that helps people to cope with the ups and downs of farming and growing by sharing things they can do to look after themselves and their families. To find out what works for you, check out farmstrong.co.nz